The Connected Histories of the BBC project has as its core the study of the BBC’s Oral History Collection.

This is an extraordinary national resource containing hundreds of recorded interviews conducted by the BBC with staff and others associated with British broadcasting – from Directors-General through to programme makers and well-known TV and radio personalities.

One of our key aims is to enable greater access to this rich and valuable ‘legacy’ archive, helping to transform our understanding of the BBC itself and its place in the cultural history of the last century.

But in doing so we must acknowledge that the voices contained in the archive do not fully represent the BBC since its creation in 1922, nor the country as a whole. Furthermore, they can express attitudes or use language that are now regarded as inappropriate, even offensive.

Our approach to the archive, then, must challenge and seek to balance these voices in ways that foreground today’s commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion. In this our work will be guided by:

  • Our conviction that oral history can diversify the historical record by widening the range of voices and perspectives that are heard.
  • The values and policies that underpin the BBC (the focus of the study), the University of Sussex (which hosts the project) and UK Research and Innovation (which funds our project).

Regarding these values and policies, we draw particular attention to the following:

  • The BBC Charter defines five public purposes, the fourth of which commits the BBC: ‘to reflect, represent and serve the diverse communities of all of the United Kingdom’s nations and regions’. It goes on to say: ‘the BBC should accurately and authentically represent and portray the lives of the people of the United Kingdom today, and raise awareness of the different cultures and alternative viewpoints that make up its society.’
  • The University of Sussex’s equality and diversity policy and its equality, diversity and inclusion strategy (2018-2025). The latter states: ‘we aspire not just to reduce inequalities in outcomes for individuals, but to use our expertise, commitment and courage to challenge the status quo.’ It goes on to say: ‘this includes understanding and addressing power relations and the intersecting inequalities that many members of our community experience’.
  • UK Research and Innovation equality, diversity and inclusion policy states: ‘promoting equality, diversity and inclusion is an integral part of our vision to deliver new knowledge and an enriched, healthier, more sustainable and resilient society and culture, and to contribute to a prosperous economy.’

What this means for our work

As we work to widen access to the archive, we will highlight the archive’s absences and anachronisms: they are an indelible part of the collection’s historical character and help reveal the attitudes and failures of previous eras.

Wherever possible and appropriate, we will challenge and compensate for these absences and anachronisms. In this way, we hope that while reflecting the reality of the BBC’s past, we simultaneously contribute to a new, more diverse history of the Corporation in the present.

Our understanding of equality, diversity and inclusion will be informed by the priorities and requirements of the public sector Equality Duty introduced by the Equality Act 2010.

We will also be guided by the BBC’s own definition of diversity, which states:

For us, diversity means all the ways we differ and it includes everyone. It includes our visible differences such as gender, race and ethnicity and visible disabilities. But it also includes our non-visible differences such as sexual orientation, social class, heritage, religion, unseen disabilities, different perspectives and thought processes, education, family status and age. At the BBC it also includes the nations and regions and where our audiences and employees live and work. (BBC Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2016-2020 p.5).

How we will do this

The following commitments will underpin our approach to the archive and our work:

  1. We will address the absences and silences in the archival collections in all the resources we create and highlight under-representation in line with accepted definitions of diversity and inclusion.
  2. We will seek to include other material that helps compensate for these absences and brings otherwise absent voices and perspectives into the historic record.
  3. We will select programme archives, oral history recordings, written records, and contemporary accounts, which collectively ensure a wider range of testimony.
  4. We will draw greater attention to the role of those who have been socially marginalised, stereotyped or otherwise problematically represented in the history of the BBC.
  5. We will avoid where possible reproducing the imbalances or stereotypes that might previously have existed in the archival resources we handle.
  6. We will go beyond ‘representation’ by ensuring that any new testimony curated by the project is brought into dialogue with and is able to challenge established accounts: for example, by highlighting examples of discrimination or exclusion which might not feature in institutional records and/or histories.
  7. We will continue to foreground diverse social backgrounds, identities and perspectives in our criteria for interview selection and prioritise voices that are currently under-represented.
  8. We will continue to support the BBC’s own commitments to diversifying its Oral History Collection.
  9. We will ensure that hitherto under-represented voices are not confined to addressing only ‘marginal’ or ‘minority’ themes.
  10. We will report to the Project Advisory Board on our progress to address the commitments outlined here.

The Connected Historiesof the BBC team, July 2020.